UNH hockey team just keeps on winning
DURHAM - At this point a year ago, it was starting to get ugly for the University of New Hampshire hockey team.
The Wildcats were in the midst of a skid in which they eventually lost seven of eight games, with the lone interruption coming in a lopsided win against the overmatched University of Alabama-Huntsville, and the seeds of a season that would end without an NCAA tournament berth were being sewn deep. Ultimately they'd need until Feb. 3 to notch their 10th win.
So if you need any more proof that this year is different than last, just check the standings.
Powered again by multipoint efforts from Grayson Downing and Kevin Goumas, and another big night in the breakout senior season of Austin Block, the Wildcats hit the double-digit mark two months and 15 games earlier than they did in 2011-12, the latest addition to the column coming in the form of Friday's 5-2 win over UMass Lowell before 5,725 fans at the Whittemore Center.
"It wasn't pretty," UNH coach Dick Umile said after his team improved to 10-1-2 overall, "but we'll take the win."
A year ago the Wildcats couldn't be picky about any win, needing to scratch and claw their way through the second half just to get into the conference tournament. But with only tonight's rematch at Tsongas Center and Thursday's home game against Boston University between them and the end-of-semester break, the 7-1-1 Wildcats now find themselves at the other end of the standings, just a point behind Boston College for the top spot in Hockey East.
They could overtake the Eagles if things break their way tonight - and not only within the league. Entering the weekend at No. 2, UNH could potentially rise in the polls to No. 1 in the country if top-ranked BC stumbles again.
The Eagles lost at BU (4-2) on Friday, while the Wildcats never trailed, opening the scoring when they once again found a way to generate offense while playing shorthanded midway through the first period. This time they caught Lowell pinching too much on the power play, Brett Kostolansky starting an odd-man rush by chipping the puck ahead to Goumas, who carried it with the patience and presence of the league's leading scorer until a passing lane opened.
When it did, he slid a pass to an uncovered Dowling, who tucked it past Doug Carr, and with that gave UNH its fourth shorthanded goal of the year.
"Our penalty kill," Umile said of the unit that thwarted all five Lowell power plays Friday, "has been very, very good."
New Hampshire carried that advantage into the first intermission, then doubled it when John Henrion snapped off a wicked wrister a couple of minutes into the second stanza, but it was later in that frame that the Wildcats really seized control of the contest.